Note: "Tonight" in the story refers to Friday.
It’s getting to be a recurring nightmare for the McDowell Titans: They’re competitive with their opponent for a large chunk of the game, only to see the wheels come off in the late stages.
It’s happened to the Titans (1-7 overall, 0-4 Northwestern 3A/4A Conference) no fewer than five times this season, including last week at Alexander Central. It’s been a litany of lost opportunities:
* McDowell trailed by just five at 26-21 early in the fourth quarter against the unbeaten and league-leading Cougars, but Alexander Central scored the next 26 points in a 55-21 win.
* Earlier in the year, the Titans led 14-7 at the half over R-S Central before losing 20-14.
* McDowell trailed Mitchell by just one at 14-13 at halftime, but ended up losing 49-19.
* The Titans trailed Hickory by just a touchdown (20-13) at the half before falling 36-13.
* McDowell was down by only two at 19-17 with more than eight minutes left to play at St. Stephens, but couldn’t score again, and 19-17 turned out to be the final score.
“It (the Alexander Central game) might be the most complete game we’ve played,” said MHS head coach Andy Morgan. “We had a first down inside the 30 down five points, and we turned it over and they scored on the next play. Then, we turned it over again, and they did it again, and that was the difference.
“They had, I think, 260-some yards to that point (the Cougars finished with 662). That’s been the story of our season.”
It’s obvious for the Titans, who have dropped six in a row after a 1-1 start, to have any chance of ending the season on an upswing, they’ll have to finish games more effectively, and that won’t be easy against tonight’s opponent.
McDowell travels to Boone for its first meeting with the Pioneers (6-2, 2-2) since the 2008 season (7:30 kickoff). The two are former longtime foes in the Northwestern Conference, having played 34 times (McDowell holds a narrow 17-16-1 edge, but has dropped three in a row in the series).
The Pioneers may not be congenial hosts, considering they had some frustrating late-game problems of their own in last week’s 26-21 upset loss to St. Stephens. Watauga was haunted by a couple of turnovers in that one, and didn’t lose the lead until the fourth quarter. The Pioneers’ final possession ended with a quarterback sack with fewer than 20 seconds to play.
But take away last week’s result, and Watauga has had an impressive season. The Pioneers have scored 48 or more points five times and average 42.3 per contest. Last week’s 21 points were far and away a season-low. That doesn’t bode well for a Titans team that has allowed an average of 464 yards of offense per contest in four NWC games.
Prior to the St. Stephens game, the Pioneers’ only defeat was a hard-fought 38-33 loss to Alexander Central on Sept. 29.
“They’re big and physical and extremely well-coached,” said Morgan of the Pioneers. “They’ve got a sophomore quarterback who runs well. They have a fullback who is a prototypical veer/flex-bone type fullback, about 195 or 200 pounds, gets downhill in a hurry and isn’t afraid of contact. The tight end is about 6-foot-3, 220 and runs well.
“They do what they do well. Coach (Ryan) Habich does a fantastic job and they have a great staff. Everybody is bought into the football culture up there.”
To hand Watauga a third league loss, McDowell will likely need a big night running the football, and those have been few and far between for the Titans. McDowell has averaged just 107 yards per game on the ground in NWC play. Tailback J.C. Olivo leads the club with 589 yards and three touchdowns on 118 carries.
McDowell’s passing game has been more effective. Senior quarterback Ben Ballew is 80-of-134 passing for 940 yards and 10 touchdowns with six interceptions.
Ballew has spread the wealth around, with five different receivers topping the 100-yard mark on the season, including Andruw Randolph (24 receptions, 281 yards, 4TDs), Dakota Effler (20-254), Seth Phillips (19-182-3TDs), Trevor Pearson (13-163-2TDs) and Olivo (13-148-TD).
“I felt like we were efficient offensively against Alexander Central,” said Morgan, whose club put up 361 yards of offense in a losing effort. “We kept the ball out on the perimeter and pulled their stud outside linebacker out of the box, and then, we could run the ball a little. That’s how the spread works, and I’m glad it worked for us.”
Notes: The Titans will get a couple of injured players back tonight. Linemen Coby Conley and Nick Ivy and outside linebacker Qualique Garner should be good to go tonight, according to Morgan. All three missed last week’s game. But all the news on the injury front isn’t positive. McDowell may have lost standout outside linebacker Dre Collins for the year. Collins has some broken ribs. Also, defensive back Zach May suffered a broken arm against Alexander Central and will miss the rest of the season…The last meeting between the two was a wild, 30-29 double-overtime Watauga win back in 2008…Ballew only needs 50 passing yards to move into third place on the Titans’ all-time career list. In his varsity career, Ballew is 216-for-383 for 2,278 yards and 19 touchdowns with 27 picks. He’s currently fourth on the list behind Dakota Arrowood (2,327).
Northwestern 4A/3A Conference football 2017
Alexander Central 4-0 8-0
Freedom 3-1 6-2
Watauga 2-2 6-2
West Caldwell 2-2 5-3
Hickory 2-2 4-4
St. Stephens 2-2 3-5
South Caldwell (4A) 1-3 1-7
McDowell (4A) 0-4 1-7
Friday, Oct. 13
Alexander Central 55, McDowell 21
Freedom 28, South Caldwell 3
St. Stephens 26, Watauga 21
Hickory 66, West Caldwell 49
Friday, Oct. 20
McDowell at Watauga
St. Stephens at Alexander Central
Hickory at South Caldwell
Freedom at West Caldwell
Friday, Oct. 27
West Caldwell at McDowell
Alexander Central at Hickory
South Caldwell at St. Stephens
Watauga at Freedom
Friday, Nov. 3
Freedom at McDowell
Alexander Central at South Caldwell
West Caldwell at Watauga
Hickory at St. Stephens